Agenda item - Public Involvement

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Agenda item

Public Involvement

To consider the following matters raised by members of the public:

 

(a)     Petitions: to receive any petitions presented to the full council or at the meeting itself;

         

(1)  One Choice is No Choice – Petition presented by Sam Fearn at Council 26 January 2017 (Extract from Council Minutes attached)

 

(b)     Written Questions: to receive any questions submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 27 February 2017;

 

(c)     Deputations: to receive any deputations submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 27 February 2017.

Minutes:

 

70a     Petitions

 

70.1    The Committee considered a petition signed by 1350 people regarding school catchment areas. The petition had been presented by Ms S Fearn at the Council meeting held on 26 January 2017. The petition stated:

 

“We believe that every child in Brighton and Hove should be treated fairly. The University of Brighton intend to provide a Secondary school for children in the central AND the east of the city which will open in 2018. For the first year, any child in the city can apply. However, the working party have recommended that the new school should be located in the central catchment from 2019. (Dorothy Stringer/Varndean school catchment which would be increased towards the west of the city to Montpelier Road). They also recommend that Coldean should be moved into the BACA catchment whilst the other existing catchments would remain the same. In effect, children in the BACA (Moulsecoomb/Bevendean including Coombe road area), Longhill (Whitehawk, Woodingdean, Ovingdean, Rottingdean and part of Saltdean), PACA (Portslade, Mile Oak) and Patcham (Patcham, Hollingbury and Westdene) will have ONE "choice/preference" whilst children in the central catchment will have THREE choices. This is unfair and contradicts the School Admissions Code (2014) which states that admission policies should be 'fair, clear and objective".

 

We, the undersigned, ask Brighton and Hove City Council to end this

unfairness and inequity and ask that children from all over the city are given at least two secondary schools in their catchment area so that ALL children have a choice.”

           

70.2    The Chair gave the following response:

 

            Thank you for the petition that has been referred from the Council meeting in January. We have noted its comments and will take the views expressed into consideration when we come to review the secondary school catchment areas at the time the permanent site of the new school is known. The premise that all catchment areas contain at least two schools is one that we shall actively consider further for the whole city and should not be ruled out at this stage. I recognise that parents in the catchment areas of BACA, PACA Longhill and Patcham do not have the same opportunities and where possible we should be fair to all.

 

70b     Written Questions

 

70.3    There were none.

 

70c     Deputations

 

70.4    The Committee considered a deputation regarding school allocation.

 

            The Deputation stated:

We are a group of parents from the Varndean/Stringer catchment area, parents of some of the 16% of year 6 pupils across Brighton and Hove shocked and devastated that we did not achieve a school allocation from any of our three preferences. Instead we have had a life changing decision made about our children’s education beyond our control and in a school that has been deemed as ‘requires improvement’ in all five effectiveness areas of Ofsted; an educational and social environment that we know our children would not thrive in. This is in direct contrast to the recent quote by Head Teachers in their joint letter to parents, pupils and the public this week. ‘…standards in secondary schools in our city are high and this truth continues to be validated by a succession of Ofsted inspections’.

Our children have been given an LEA allocation;

-        That is in a community that they have no knowledge or experience of, or social connections with

-        Which requires them to travel miles away from the city on their own on public transport.

-        Where ‘School leaders have not improved the quality of teaching and outcomes consistently since the previous inspection’. Ofsted 2016

-        Where ‘Teaching does not consistently provide work that is well matched to the range of attainment of pupils in the class’ Ofsted 2016

To quote Councillor Daniel Chapman, Head of Children’s, Young people and Skills Committee; ‘We have always tried our best to ensure parents are offered a place in their catchment area if they apply for one’

There are 147 families throughout the city that disagree with you, an increase of 28% on last year’s figure, where 106 preferences were not offered. These ‘unlucky’ families are now to be placed in a re-allocation pool with all other families who may have already received one of their preferences.

This is an unfair system and does not honour your statement in ensuring these catchment area preferences for parents. Our children are being penalised for entering secondary school in a year where the council has failed to adequately plan a new school or offer additional places, in time for an overburdened catchment area. The council knew this was going to be a problem as far back as 2014. In 2014 Councillor Sue Shanks said ‘At present there are enough secondary places city-wide for the numbers of students requiring them, but we are acutely aware that secondary school numbers will be going up significantly in the next few years”.

Our children are the now victims of this failure.

In 2015-16 and 2016-17 the council was given specific government

funds totalling £24 million to provide extra places. eg:

-        2014 - 22 extra children were divided between Varndean and Dorothy Stringer.

-        2016- 28 extra children were divided between Varndean and Dorothy Stringer.

Whilst the random allocation system seems fair, it is utterly devastating for the unlucky minority. In the last three years, the council have made a commitment to placing all children in a catchment school or one of their preferences.  Why is there no commitment for our children?

We are demanding the following:

1.     That you commit to providing additional places for all children in their catchment area if they apply for one, as you have in previous years. We would like the same equality of opportunity. We ask that the council and the Head Teachers work together to make this possible. To quote Andrew Stevenson, Business manager of Varndean School, ‘The school is happy to take part in regular reviews of admissions arrangements to respond to demographic changes and needs of families’.

2.     Following the school registration deadline of March 15th, these 57 children must be given priority before the reallocation pool is opened to everybody. Under the current system, a child who has already been allocated a catchment place has the same priority as a child who has not been allocated any of their preferences. This seems wholly unjust and unfair.

3.     To meet with councillors of the Children, Young Peoples and Skills Committee as a matter of urgency (this week) to seek solutions to the points raised above.

 

As a result of your failure to provide our children with one of their preferences, they are already suffering emotional distress, feeling socially isolated and feel treated unfairly compared to their peers. In a highly pressurised year, with imminent SATS exam, the end of their primary school years and pre-existing worries about starting a new school, this additional anxiety of moving to a school far from their community is making them fearful about their futures. Sending children to schools which are deemed by Ofsted to require improvement could limit the educational opportunities and attainment of our children, impacting on their future prospects. This is totally unacceptable. These children have been placed in a very vulnerable position by a department that is responsible for the welfare and wellbeing for children across the city.

 

70.5    The Chair gave the following response:

           

            Thank you for your Deputation and I do appreciate that behind all the headlines are real children and families who are affected by the decisions made when school places are allocated.

 

The council has ensured that there are sufficient school places for all pupils who require them but with a finite resource it is not possible to meet all parents’ preferences. Our published admission arrangements make it clear what we will do when we receive more applications than places available and whilst every effort is made to offer a place at your child’s catchment school this cannot be guaranteed. At a time of public sector funding pressures we must use our resources efficiently and consider the appropriateness of additional expenditure.

 

When determining how many pupils can be admitted into a school, careful consideration must be given to the capacity of the school to admit additional children. In past years the number of pupils who could not initially be offered a catchment area school were small and both Dorothy Stringer and Varndean were both allocated a small number of extra pupils on allocation day with the expectation that the number on roll would drop down to their published admission number by September.  This year, due to the large number of pupils in the area not able to be offered any preferences, it was not possible for the schools to accommodate these additional pupils as both are already operating above their capacity in many year group.  Given the existing accommodation, neither Dorothy Stringer nor Varndean could increase their capacity in order to admit the 57 pupils living in the catchment area not offered any of their preferences.

 

When pupils have not been offered their preferred school a waiting list or reallocation pool is created.  A reallocation pool is ordered according to the council’s agreed admissions priorities, if there are more pupils in any given priority than the number of available places, a random allocation is used as the tie break.  While it is understandable for parents living in this area who have not been offered any preference schools to feel this is unfair, there is no facility within the existing admission arrangements to priorities these pupils above any other children living in the catchment area waiting for a place.

 

If you remain unhappy with the school place your child has been offered, you can appeal to the independent appeal panel. The appeal panel will make a decision about whether the school is full and whether to admit additional pupils would prejudice efficient education and the efficient use of the council’s resources. If the panel agree that the school is full and that to admit additional pupils would be prejudicial they move onto the individual hearings.  Every parent then has the opportunity to make their case at an individual hearing as to why their child should attend the school in question.  Once all of the individual hearings have been heard the panel make a balancing decision for all of the appellants to see which if any of these cases to attend the school outweigh the prejudice.

 

I would encourage you to ensure your child’s name is entered in the reallocation pool for any school you would wish them to attend. I would encourage you to consider making an appeal to an independent panel and, following on from the open letter written by the head teachers of the city’s secondary schools, I would encourage parents and carers uncertain about a school to visit it for yourselves first, to see what it is like.

 

 

Supporting documents:

 


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